When Employee Trips Turn Into Nightmares

Kelly Spors

Incentive trips, conferences and other types of employee travel are common ways for employers to train, reward and motivate their best employees and managers. But off-site work events can also be a legal land mine. From injuries to assaults to alcohol-related incidents, your small business needs workers’ comp coverage to be prepared for the various issues that can surface on work-sponsored trips—and potentially lead to costly lawsuits.

Here are some of the most common major problems that spring up during employee trips and conferences, along with real-life situations:

Serious injury.

In 2006, Danny Douglas, a computer support analyst for Ad Astra in Overland Park, Kansas, attended a company-sponsored “team-building” event at an indoor go-cart racing facility. Employees were given a brief pep talk about an upcoming product and were then divided into teams and told they could win prizes by going the fastest. While rounding a curve at 25 miles per hour, Douglas was thrown from his go-cart and landed on his side and suffered a fractured rib and lung injury that required immediate surgery.

His company initially refused to pay workers compensation because it claimed the activity was voluntary; a judge later ruled that the company must pay workers’ comp, according to SafetyNewsAlert.com. The case eventually reached the Kansas Supreme Court, which agreed that it appeared likely that Douglas was required to either be working or at the go-cart facility, but said the state’s worker compensation board needed to reevaluate the case using a different test.

Employee misconduct.

A former Microsoft manager in the United Kingdom, Simon Negus, was terminated for “dishonesty” after he was allegedly seen kissing another Microsoft employee at an Atlanta conference in 2009. The company dismissed Negus the following September and sued him for $126,000—part of his 2008 signing bonus—and for another part of his holiday pay, according to Bloomberg. Negus later counter-sued. In another case of alleged misconduct, at least one software developer was laid off from his employer in 2013 after a tech blogger overheard him and another developer making jokes sexual in nature about “dongles” at PyCon, a Python developer conference in Santa Clara, California, according to ArsTechnica.com.

Illness and food poisoning.

Legionnaire’s disease is perhaps the most infamous case of a major illness outbreak during a convention (of the American Legion in 1976). But employees getting sick during a work-related event is not so unusual, really. There’s always the risk that employees they will get food poisoning or contract a contagious illness when traveling for work.  Earlier this year, in fact, more than 100 attendees of—ironically—a food-safety summit in Baltimore, Maryland apparently got sick after one of the meals, according to NBC News. About 12 hours after the meal, many guests reported nausea, diarrhea and other symptoms often associated with food-borne illnesses. No attendees were hospitalized and food safety inspectors could not immediately track down the cause of the illness. Incidents such as this are just another reason why businesses should consider a workers’ compensation insurance plan.

Employee arrested.

When outside the office—even when technically on the clock—sometimes employees can get in trouble. A judge in Guadalupe County, Texas, Mike Wiggins, was arrested on drug possession when attending a conference in 2012. A worker at the hotel where the conference was taking place smelled marijuana during the conference and traced it back to Wiggins’ room, according to KWTX.com.

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8 Responses to "When Employee Trips Turn Into Nightmares"

    • Vincent Barr | July 17, 2018 at 3:47 pm

      No addition – just the informational glance: SmallBiz Ahead

    • Paul Salvato | July 17, 2018 at 8:22 pm

      Thanks

    • Brenda Stevens | July 18, 2018 at 6:57 am

      Thanks

    • Kavita Kapur | July 18, 2018 at 1:26 pm

      Thanks

    • Joanne M | July 19, 2018 at 2:20 am

      Does our regular workman’s comp insurance cover outside business events?

      We have only done one trip. We had a meeting beforehand covering expected “behavior” for the trip, and we also had all participants sign a waiver too.

      Thank you for your ideas.

    • Barth Aaron | July 19, 2018 at 2:32 pm

      Joanne M – worker’s compensation insurance covers injuries to workers while on the job and performing required services for the employer. Each state has its requirements and limitations, so it is best to check with your local WC broker/agent or an attorney. However, if the trip is required by the employer and part of the employee’s job function, injuries suffered on the trip should be covered. Most jurisdictions have a “going and coming” rule, which limits WC claims when the injury occurs coming to work from home or going home from work. You see these situations commonly with a car accident on the way to work or slipping on ice in the employer’s parking lot. Thus, should the trip start from the employee’s home directly to the out of state site, there may be limits on coverage. Starting the trip from the place of business and returning to the place of business would resolve that issue. WC is meant for physical injuries, but can cover mental distress, so claims based on sexual harassment or similar non-physical injury are questionable. Again, it is best to get guidance from your insurer and/or attorney about what is or would be covered and what is not.

    • Joanne M | July 19, 2018 at 2:52 pm

      Thank you very much!

    • Jack Woolridge | July 19, 2018 at 3:11 pm

      Very good. Thank you.

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